Cycles of history

So, it turns out Rick Klau’s comment on Prof. Bailyn’s pamphleteering statements in Ideological Origins gets at something that Dan Bricklin talked about two years ago.  And Will Cox happened to recall, telling Rick about Dan’s previous comment.  On one level, this back and forth is mundane, I suppose.  But it’s also fascinating.  I’m constantly amazed by the extent to which people who blog do so self-consciously.  Not self-consciously as in “ohmygod what will she think about my outfit?” but self-consciously as in writers thinking about their craft as they do it.  Maybe that’s part of what’s fun about it — the freshness of the medium (more fresh for some of us than for others, who’ve been at it for longer) and the extent to which it’s still evolving and still being put to new uses.  Actually, newly being put to old uses, like political organizing.

Which is why I’m so pleased with today’s Gazette articleThis place has been around for a long time.  Lots of cool research has occurred over several centuries, on topics of so many sorts.  And yet there’s still a sense of wonderment about the *sheer possibilities* of a new medium — a new medium that can help us learn and share and think better.  Yeah, that does sound breathless and naive.  And maybe things won’t pan out for this Internet thing or this blogs thing.  But man, I’d hate to be anywhere but in this mix, trying to find out.

Blogging and American history

Perhaps the most famous living American historian, Bernard Bailyn, has weighed in on blogging — sort of.  Thanks to Rick Klau for pointing out quotes from Prof. Bailyn from “Ideological Origins,” the definitive history of the intellectual tradition and philosophies that led up to the American Revolution.  Rick’s point is that Bailyn could just as easily have been talking about blogs as about pamphlets, the blogs of the 18th century.  (Or, put another way, blogs are the pamphlets of the 21st century).  Thomas Paine’s Common Sense is the emblematic pamphlet.

The American Revolution, Bailyn tells us, was really about the preservation of political liberty.  Blogs, no doubt, are about the preservation of political liberty in the online environment, in a digital era.  Rick’s analogy rings true to me, given a recent experience testifying against the mini-DMCA proposed in Massachusetts.  In a centuries-old hearing room, dozens of technologists had come to testify against a lousy bill, with one special interest lobbyist representing the other side.  How did the techies know to show up in that hearing room off Nurse’s Hall?  They read today’s online pamphlets, just as our forebears read paper pamphlets.  The spirit, it seems to me, is precisely the same.  Blogs are just faster, more powerful, with greater reach.  We should learn how to use them, yet better — not just in Massachusetts, either, but in other states and in the world at large.  It’s no time to claim victory, of course, but rather to celebrate a new means of political organizing and figuring out how to put it to yet greater use.

Prof. Bailyn was on the committee that reviewed my work as an undergraduate in History and Literature and grilled me at my orals.  He is a so-called University Professor, which is probably Harvard’s highest honor; it means, some say, that he’s so smart that he can teach in any discipline.  He is a giant of an historian and a wonderful man.  To be able to claim him on our side would be quite a coup.  Perhaps we should invite him to one of Dave’s blogging sessions here at the Berkman Center on Thursday nights.

Voice of America and Chinese Net censorship

Researchers at the Berkman Center — JZ and Ben Edelman — had a very productive study underway looking at how China and other states filter Net traffic to, from and within the country.  Paul Festa of CNET writes today about the Voice of America commissioning software that will get around the Great Firewall using a circumvention web server and SSL.  It’s interesting to me the extent to which the approach is being talked about openly.  Given our interest in openness on the Net broadly, I see that as a good thing.  An interesting strategy all the same when this filtering business is something of a tech arms race.